January 21, 2010 5:02 am,
We’ve recently begun using Software as a Service provider Zendesk for our online help. Zendesk is a great tool that acts as both self support in the way of quick guides and problem ticketing.
We’ve got a lot of content still to write but we’ve started well and already have some useful tools on the site for users. This will make our life easier but most importantly for customers it’ll mean they get answers to their questions quickly and effectively.
Already up on Zendesk we have Quick guides that give quick easy information that is readily searchable;
The great thing about Zendesk is that it’s readily searchable – type in “payment” for example and you’ll get all the content items that include that word payment (at the time of writing, eight different places).
Even better, if you can’t find the answer you are looking for in our online help, you can simply ask the question by submitting a request.
Zendesk is a really great company, trying to do to the help desk what we at LearningSource are doing for training management – working with them to build our support offering has been a great experience.
January 14, 2010 4:59 am,
We built LearningSource to offer the core functionality for running a training business, however we realise that all organisations needs are different and that integration with other systems is essential to deliver an efficient and effective overall business software solution. Potentially users may want to integrate LearningSource with any number of different business systems, from accounting to payment gateways, from customer relationship management systems to membership databases.
We’ve got some really exciting integration work underway right now and we’ll have some announcements to make in the coming weeks – for now we thought we’d share some of our thinking about what integration actually means for users of LearningSource.
What does Integration mean?
Before reviewing the system integration options it is worth clarifying what exactly the term integration means as there are varying extents to which a system is integrated with another. On one end of the scale it can mean fully automated transfer of information from one system to another without any manual interaction while on the other end it may just mean that it is possible to transfer information. The process to do so may require a manual and potentially very time consuming task. For example, you may need to export the information and then add or remove information, change the format of specific content (date formats, currency formats), change column heading names, or potentially merge columns (e.g. first name and last name into full name). So while someone may say the two systems can integrate the process may in fact be impractical. The following is a simple list of potential integration options;
- Export ‘edit’ then Import – Export the data, edit the content of the file as required, and then import.
- Export/Import – Format of exported file exactly matches the required import format. User therefore can export the file, save a copy, and then import it directly into the second application without needing to edit it.
- Send using API – You are able to transfer information from one application to another at the press of a button without needing to download and then upload a file. This is achieved through what is technically called an Application Programming Interface (API). Basically both systems are configured in such a way that they can transfer information in a common format. The process for developing integration functionality is usually made easier by an application provider clearly documenting the API for their application.
- Automated Integration using API – This is similar to ‘Sending using API’ described above, but where there is no manual task required for the transfer of information to take place. The systems are setup to automatically communicate with each other as required. For example, instead of you having to press a button to transfer an Order from LearningSource into your Accounting System to create an Invoice, it would be possible to automate the integration so that when an Order is approved an invoice is automatically created in your Accounting System.
Exciting Possibilities with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
Delivering an application as a web based service (also referred to as an online application, Software-as-a-Service or a ‘cloud’ based application), offers many advantages over the traditional approach of installing and managing the application on your own servers. For example; fast implementation, automated upgrades, anywhere and anytime access, and automated backups. However one significant advantage that is only now really starting to have an impact, but one which is likely to be the most significant of them all, is the inherent ease for which two web based applications can interact with one another. For example, the ability for LearningSource to be integrated (using an API’s) with another web based Accounting System.
This ease of integration is seen on two fronts. Firstly it is easy for the user – they will likely not need any specialist knowledge or technical expertise to setup the integration between two web based applications. No software installations, no application configurations, and no firewall settings. It will just work.
Secondly, it is easy for the application developers. When we develop the integration we don’t have to worry about different versions of the application, different configurations, and most importantly we don’t have to worry about how you manage and run your local network, that is your firewall settings, server configurations, and other network configurations.
So What is possible?
When you make it easier to integrate two applications you invariably open up a range of new and exciting impossibilities. Here are just a few that we will be working on in the future;
- The ability to keep your customer’s contact details synchronised
- The ability to display information from one system within another – eg you open a Contact in LearningSource and their current balance as seen in your Accounting System is displayed within the information.
- The ability to automate processes – eg you make a refund and cancel a registration from within LearningSource and a Credit Note is automatically generated in your Accounting System.
Accounting System Integration
The diagram below illustrates the functions of both LearningSource and an Accounting System with the integration between the two systems involving the potential transfer of Order, Credit Note, Payment, and Contact information. The primary focus is to eliminate the double entry of order information from LearningSource into the accounting system to create an invoice. This not only includes the transfer of orders items, but also Contact/Account information which is part of the order. For example, if an Order is billed to a Contact which is not already in your Accounting System, a new Contact will be created. Equally, if an Order is submitted which is to be billed to Contact already in your accounting system, then and invoice will be billed to the existing Contact.
LearningSource is also able to automate invoicing within the order process by sending Invoices directly and then simply transferring the invoice into your accounting system to reconcile the payment. Refunds by credit cards will also automatically generate and send Credit Notes to clients with the Credit Note then been transferred through to your accounting system for reconciliation.
There’s lots more to come here – read more in our online support pages or subscribe to our blog for further posts.